Greater Greater Washington

Posts by Ken Archer

Ken Archer is CTO of a software firm in Tysons Corner. He commutes to Tysons by bus from his home in Georgetown, where he lives with his wife and son. Ken completed a Masters degree in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America. 

Workforce development can solve poverty in DC

The challenge of poverty in DC can feel overwhelming. What can any one person do? Experts largely agree that workforce development is the solution, and the good news is that you can have a big impact.

Photo by mnd.ctrl on Flickr.

Workforce development is the systematic removal of barriers to employment, whatever they may be, that jobless residents face. There are many stereotypes about the causes of poverty in DC. Examining the true causes of poverty shows why workforce development matters so much, and why it deserves far more attention than it gets.

The initially-apparent causes of poverty are unemployment and underemployment. But what personal or systematic barriers to employment do jobless people face? You may be surprised to learn what they are.

The root problems of poverty may not be what you think

Joblessness in DC is due to poor workforce readiness, not lack of jobs. Martha Ross, a Brookings Institute fellow who leads research on DC, notes that the city has more jobs than residents and is located in an economically strong region. That means our primary lever to reduce unemployment and poverty isn't adding more jobs, it's workforce development.

"We're in a relatively fortunate position: we have jobs to connect people to or train them for," says Ross. "We're not like other cities or regions that are hemorrhaging jobs."

Despite this, elected officials talk about creating jobs for DC residents far more than they talk about workforce development. We could do so much to improve our broken workforce development system if we only had the will to do it.

So, what needs fixing? Some people assume that the issue is those who provide workforce training, but that's not true. If a lack of skills were the only barrier to employment faced by poor people, DC would not have a poverty crisis.

Most jobless and underemployed residents have more obstacles to full employment than occupational skills. Major obstacles to employment are lack of child care, lack of literacy and basic adult education, soft skills, lack of transportation, addiction issues, and barriers to hiring citizens returning from prison.

Unemployment is an assault on one's dignity. All of these barriers may cause unemployed people to lose their sense of agency and empowerment, something that most working residents take for granted. This creates the greatest challenge to public policy, but it is one for which there are proven solutions.

How can workforce development help?

It's understandable that we would want to focus on helping the unemployed who are motivated to help themselves. The reality, though, is that doing so won't solve the crisis of poverty. But there are proven solutions to addressing the poverty of hope that holds back those with multiple barriers to employment.

  1. Integrating literacy, basic education with skills training
  2. Literacy and adult basic education are usually considered prerequisites to occupational skills training. Not surprisingly, completion rates for literacy and basic education courses are low. They take a long time to complete, and people struggling with a loss of empowerment may be reluctant to put in the effort.

    There is a better way. In 2004, Washington state piloted a new model: integrated basic education and occupational skills training. It's more expensive, because it requires two instructors. Literacy and basic education are taught in the context of a specific occupation. But it works.

    The program, called I-BEST, greatly improved completion rates for basic education and was expanded statewide in 2006. Many states have created their own I-BEST programs, which are often provided through community colleges. In Maryland, both Montgomery College and Prince George's Community College have successful I-BEST programs.

    Meanwhile, the University of the District of Columbia Community College (UDC-CC) still provides separate basic education and occupational skills training according to the old model. And literacy services, which are contracted by DC's State Superintendent of Education, are also disconnected from occupational training.

  3. Pre- and post-employment wraparound services
  4. DC agencies offer many services to address obstacles to employment, like childcare, literacy, transportation, and skills training. Unfortunately, they are often hard to find, require repeated visits at all hours to offices around town, and require providing duplicate paperwork that is sometimes lost. As a result, these services often go to the jobless who need them the least because they possess the drive to navigate this system.

    The unemployed poor need a one-stop delivery model of wraparound services. Federal law requires every state to establish One-Stop centers to disribute federal training grants to the unemployed. But DC's One-Stops are in desperate need of reform.

    Numerous studies point to long waiting times for services at DC's One-Stop centers. And a report leaked earlier this year showed the consequences: lots of jobless come to the One-Stops for help, but very few receive services.

    "Effective One-Stop centers often have strong partnerships with social service providers", according to Brooke DeRenzis of DC Appleseed, who led a study of DC's One-Stops this year. "In some cases, partner organizations that provide services like public assistance or housing may even locate staff at the One-Stop center", an arrangement that doesn't exist in DC's One-Stops.

    In addition, UDC-CC has been unwilling to provide any user-friendly wraparound services. The UDC-CC president actually told a Council hearing last month that "job placement is not part of our mission". Unfortunately, even their core services of class registration have proven inaccessible, with reports of lost paperwork and long waiting periods.

  5. Outcomes reporting
  6. There are dozens of workforce development programs spread across 13 DC agencies, but little reporting on the outcomes of those programs. Reliable reporting would expose the ineffectiveness of isolated point programs that don't follow the models described above.

    Outcomes reporting should focus not in individual job training programs, but on the One-Stops and UDC Community College. (See Update below for UDC-CC reports.) That's because these are the agencies that should coordinate training with other services to help jobless overcome all barriers to employment.

    The lack of outcomes reporting is particularly tragic given how readily available it is. The employment status and salary of every employed DC resident is easily accessible in DC's unemployment insurance database, which is integrated with those of neighboring states.

What you can do

How can you take effective action to help solve poverty in DC? For starters, you can volunteer with organizations that use best practices. Look for organizations that provide integrated basic education and skills training, wraparound services, and report their outcomes.

One example is So Others Might Eat, or SOME. This organization uses the I-BEST co-teaching model in their Center for Employment Training, and provides wraparound services to clients and tracking of graduates for reporting purposes.

You can also advocate for reform of OSSE literacy services, UDC Community College, One-Stops and our outcomes reporting system at many venues. You can email your councilmember or testify at one of several hearings each year on workforce development and adult education.

The next hearing, on September 27, concerns UDC. Come testify about the urgency of reforming the UDC Community College as described above. You can follow DC Council hearings on their online calendar, or email me and I'll keep you informed of upcoming hearings on workforce development where you can testify.

Update: While UDC-CC is not required to produce outcomes reporting, it turns out that they do anyway and, to their great credit, posted the reports to their site yesterday.

Most Ward 2 neighborhoods oppose visitor parking passes

Most of the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions in DC's Ward 2 have passed resolutions saying they don't want a free visitor parking placard program in their neighborhoods. The commissions went on record on this issue up to a year ago, but last week, transportation officials announced that they'll expand the program citywide anyway.

DDOT decided not to listen. Photo by sokabs on Flickr.

Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans also opposes the plan. He citing the opposition of "most of the ANCs" in his ward, while saying he only has gotten a few messages from constituents who support the program.

Georgetown's ANC hasn't passed such a resolution, but that doesn't mean they support it, either. Its chair, Ron Lewis, told residents and the media that "this came as a total surprise to us." Lewis has been working for years with Georgetown residents and DDOT parking planners to find agreement on a set of parking proposals that everyone would support.

Shortly before DDOT's announcement, the agency's planners in charge of parking, Damon Harvey and Angelo Rao, left or were fired. Harvey and Rao had led two parking town halls in Georgetown and dozens of meetings of an ad hoc Georgetown Parking Working Group made up of residents and business representatives. I was involved in these meetings, and all parties felt that the group was very close to a set of consensus proposals after years of negotiation.

Free visitor parking passes for all Georgetown RPP holders was never a serious proposal in these discussions, and community leaders communicated concerns about expanding these passes into Georgetown several times.

We've been here before

Last year, a similar process played out. DDOT spokesperson Monica Hernandez told reporters that the agency intended to expand the trial citywide. In response, ANCs throughout Ward 2 passed resolutions opposing the idea and sent the resolutions to DDOT.

For example, here is Dupont's ANC 2B resolution from last October.

DDOT ultimately pulled back and did not expand the program to these neighborhoods in 2012. Rao promised to devise a replacement system before this fall. However, with no new program on the horizon, DDOT announced it would offer visitor passes to all neighborhoods by October 1 and proposed regulations making that possible.

You can provide feedback on DDOT's expansion of the visitor parking program through the mandated 30-day comment period for all such regulations. To tell the agency how you feel about their regulations expanding free visitor parking placards citywide, email before September 8.

Workforce, business development creates jobs, not Walmart

Last week, the DC Council passed an act that requires big box retailers to pay a living wage, and Walmart threatened not to build 3 of 6 planned stores here. Opponents say it's proof that the Large Retailer Accountability Act will kill jobs, but there are better, proven ways to encourage economic development.

Photo by dno1967b on Flickr.

Economic development experts know what works: a long term coordinated strategy around workforce development and business development. This approach has successfully revitalized downtown and other once-blighted corridors what works. But Deputy Mayor for Economic Development Victor Hoskins has focused on cutting deals that get headlines, whether or not they produce results.

We don't need Walmart to revitalize DC's underserved neighborhoods, and we can still reduce unemployment while insisting that large retailers pay their employees enough to make a decent living.

Requiring a living wage won't increase unemployment

Earlier this month, I met with Mayor Vincent Gray for 45 minutes to discuss unemployment. He's one of the foremost experts in unemployment in DC, and he understands that unemployment in DC is caused by poor workforce readiness, not a lack of jobs. Only 28% of DC's jobs go to DC residents.

Gray is responsible for several initiatives that will help reduce unemployment in DC, like starting UDC Community College, reconstituting the Workforce Investment Council and One City One Hire. The job prospects of unemployed residents relies more on these initiatives than it does on Walmart. After all, even if Walmart offers new jobs, residents can't fill them if they're not trained to be good employees.

One challenge in addressing unemployment is job retention. DC has a far lower job retention rate than other states. Economists have demonstrated that low wages have a significant impact on job retention, and that raising the minimum wage increases job retention.

This is particularly true with low-skilled service class jobs. Leisure, hospitality, and retail jobs are the fastest growing source of jobs in DC and nationwide for low-skilled workers. But they are usually crappy jobs that offer little to no path to a living wage, let alone the middle class.

Urban researcher Richard Florida says part of the answer is to make service jobs better by requiring employers to pay a living wage:

Two kinds of jobs are growing in great cities - highpaying knowledge, professional and creative jobs, and low skill low pay contingent service jobs. Inequality is growing and our cities are increasingly divided. A higher minimum wage is an important part of a badly new urban social compact which values workers and raises wages. It can be a first step toward viewing workers as a source of innovation and creativity.
To that end, Mayor Gray has launched several little-noticed initiatives to train unemployed workers for hospitality and retail jobs. They produce the kind of workers that retailers who pay living wages and require a low-turnover, high-value workforce want to hire.

But there's a disconnect between Gray's workforce development strategy and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development (DMPED), the city's economic development agency. For all its merits, DMPED's 5-year economic development plan says little about workforce development. The reconstituted Workforce Investment Council, while technically housed in DMPED, does not actually collaborate in DMPED projects.

Gray's workforce experts would tell DMPED that the city needs businesses that have re-engineered their retail and hospitality positions for higher value, who will use the pipelines we are creating to train workers who can deliver that value. Many studies show that a higher minimum wage results in higher-quality service jobs, which lead to greater job stability and less unemployment.

Economic development of Ward 7 doesn't depend on Walmart

Walmart says they will cancel 3 proposed stores if LRAA is passed: one at New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road NE in Ward 5, and one each in the Capital Gateway and Skyland Town Center developments in Ward 7. Residents have anticipated all 3 projects for years, especially Skyland.

Ward 7 resident Charles Crews says there is much more that the city could be doing. "It's horrible how they aren't working on beautification of the ward," he says. "There's trash, and the buildings are not maintained at all. This creates an attitude among residents that Walmart is the best we can do".

But do these neighborhoods, especially those in Ward 7, need Walmart for economic development? According to councilmember and mayoral candidate Jack Evans, who led the economic development of downtown DC, 14th Street NW, and other distressed and blighted corridors, they don't. "People are looking for the silver bullet," Evans said, "but there is no silver bullet. You need a long term plan."

Evans cites Georgetown as one example. "Georgetown used to be the same, trash everywhere. The way you change that is the BID concept," he says, referring to Business Improvement Districts. He proposes creating publicly-funded BIDs in Ward 7 neighborhoods to make them more attractive to businesses, while hiring local residents to keep streets clean.

From there, he would offer targeted subsidies for retailers who want to locate there. This was hugely successful in Ward 2 and produced both economic and non-economic returns for the city. Today, Ward 7 receives fewer economic development subsidies than nearly any part of town, according to a report from the CFO's office.

Ward 7 gets few economic development subsidies.

Ward 7 resident Kendrick Jackson says that the city has been unwilling to partner with small businesses, like a coworking space and a coffeeshop, who could really make a difference in his community.

"The city should be working with them with incentives and assistance, but instead they are having to deal with obstacles at DCRA [the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs]," he says. "I would rather see attractive small retailers that would draw people to the area than something like Home Depot that brings a giant parking lot. But the city doesn't see small retailers as part of their plan for ward 7."

Evans says that after a city-led beautification and public space project, he is confident he could provide subsidies to the right retailers to set up in Ward 7. This is the type of long-term planning that results in sustained economic development, and it features prominently in a document put together by the DC Office of Planning and Bethesda-based retail consultants Streetsense last year called the Vibrant Streets Toolkit, which offers advice for DC's struggling business districts.

Edwin Jones, pastor of Living Faith Baptist Church and resident of Ward 7, supports Councilmember Evans' proposal. "That's how the plan should work, instead of just accepting Walmart," he says. "It's that kind of plan that improves the community and includes the residents in the community."

Will Gray challenge his economic development team to give him a real plan for Ward 7 that combines business and workforce development? Or will he perpetuate a culture in his economic development agency that reduces development to dealmaking that produces headlines?

DDOT bows to pressure, removes Wisconsin Ave. median

Last week, DC officials quietly reversed their recent traffic calming project in Glover Park and began removing a new median on Wisconsin Avenue.

New left-turn lanes in Glover Park. Photo from DDOT.

With the Glover Park ANC's support, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) replaced one lane on Wisconsin between 35th and Garfield streets with a painted median in January to calm traffic and improve pedestrian safety. However, a number of residents who drive through Glover Park, including Councilmember Jack Evans (Ward 2, including Georgetown), pushed to reverse the move.

DDOT previously said their plan was to leave the median in place long enough to study it, but in the face of pressure, the agency suddenly began removing the median between Calvert and Garfield streets. Drivers struck 2 pedestrians each year in this stretch between 2008 and 2010. DDOT spokesperson Monica Hernandez says the change is "permanent" and that "the plan is to monitor pedestrian safety going forward."

Community supported median on Wisconsin Avenue

ANC 3B, which contains Glover Park, endorsed the median after a long vetting process. In June 2009, DDOT and its consultants at Toole Design Group recommended replacing one through lane with a center left turn median lane. Studies from the Office of Planning and DDOT found that it would increase pedestrian safety, calm traffic and direct it to the commercial strip by removing turning cars from the through lanes.

While DDOT originally proposed a raised median, ANC 3B advocated to start with painted medians so DDOT could study their effect and make changes if needed. After multiple ANC meetings and ample discussion on the Glover Park listserv, DDOT finally completed the painted median in January. Some neighbors immediately began to question the new median's impact on local businesses and whether it had just pushed traffic onto other streets.

Despite some complaints, most Glover Park residents agreed that the new configuration made it safer to move around Wisconsin Avenue, whether by car, foot or transit. The Glover Park ANC was also supportive, though they advocated for continued study and tweaks to reduce congestion.

Political pressure trumps collecting data

DDOT offered to study traffic delays for a year and look at ways to change the light timing, signage and enforcement to reduce congestion, but opponents said that was too long to wait.

Evans kept pressure up on the issue, including railing against it at public forums. He made regular phone calls to Councilmember Mary Cheh (Ward 3, which includes Glover Park) while driving through the area, which he traverses several times a day to take his kids to and from their home in Georgetown.

When DDOT presented preliminary results of traffic studies showing that the median only added 1-2 minutes to driving time, Evans was incredulous. "If we were talking about just a couple minutes, we wouldn't be here," he said.

Last week, DDOT quietly began removing part of the median. The agency made this decision without telling residents of Glover Park or ANC 3B. DDOT spokesperson Monica Hernandez says they acted based on "direction provided by those at the May 1 hearing."

ANC members are disappointed in DDOT's change of heart. "It's outrageous that DDOT would make this change without considering its impacts on pedestrian safety and traffic flow and without consulting with the community most affected by the modifications," said ANC 3B chair Brian Cohen.

Cohen also says Evans' involvement shifted the decision from safety-focused to political. "The change from data-gathering to simply reversing DDOT clearly happened when Councilmember Evans inserted himself into the issue," said Cohen. "Jack Evans hasn't shown the slightest interest in the well-being and safety of the people who live, work, and play in Glover Park. ... It's galling that he's been given carte blanche to make decisions that undermine pedestrian safety in our community."

The Wisconsin Avenue median was the result of extensive study, community discussion, and eventually community buy-in. It's disappointing that DDOT would subvert its own process and put pedestrians at risk based on political pressure. Glover Park residents deserve better treatment from their officials and elected leaders.

Sustainable Energy Utility needs more than good intentions

Malcolm Kenton wrote last week about the DC Sustainable Energy Utility's progress toward helping DC residents and businesses save energy. Here is a less sanguine view.

The DC Sustainable Energy Utility (SEU) was created with the best of intentions and much fanfare. Unfortunately, after more than $30 million dollars and nearly 3 years, DC SEU has had trouble even changing light bulbs effectively, and is lagging behind successful programs in other states.

Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Energy-efficiency programs around the country have successfully demonstrated ways to assure that communities invest in saving energy, but DC ranked only 29th among states in energy-efficiency programs in 2012, according to one recent analysis.

That's not great, since many states in the South and Great Plains have terrible records. The District should be a leader, or at least emulate the best programs from around the nation.

For example, in Massachusetts, utilities work with local banks to provide 0% interest loans for homeowners and businesses for energy efficiency. This addresses a common and fundamental impediment to efficiency investments at scale: poor access to capital. The public sector's upfront incentives to the banks make the 0% loans possible, which then leverages significant investment capital from the private sector.

Virginia offers basic and straightforward rebates for commercial building energy audits. These audits identify where a building is inefficient (from HVAC to lighting to operations) and catalyze efficiency investments. Once a commercial building owner sees a facility's inefficiencies, and has information about what investments could pay for themselves in savings, they often make sustainable improvements without further incentives.

SEU isn't meeting its goals

DC residents and businesses pay a small percentage of their electric and gas bills to support DC SEU. As a result, DC SEU raised $17.5 million this year and will raise $20 million next year.

The Vermont Energy Investment Cooperation, or VEIC, won a competitive bid from the District to operate DC SEU. Their contract has been renewed each year, but so far, VEIC is struggling.

In fiscal year 2012, DC SEU met just 2 of 6 performance benchmarks the District set for things like reducing energy or increasing renewable energy generation. Their goal was to reduce citywide electricity use by 45,000 megawatt-hours, but they only saved 21,000.

DC SEU even fell behind on creating green jobs, which is one of its main goals. The organization hired just 41 people in 2012, well below their goal of 53.

DC SEU claims that it saved DC residents and businesses $2.8 million in annualized energy costs, but it received $14 million in funding last year. For a group intended to be a "market catalyst," this return on investment is disappointing.

It also counts spillover effects from its work, like customers who don't participate in their programs but are still working to reduce their energy use. This method of measurement may be an industry standard, but it doesn't really reflect DC SEU's effectiveness.

Is the SEU trying to do what it takes?

Nor does the organization's FY 2013 First Quarter report acknowledge any of DC SEU's past shortcomings or the need for any improvements. While the report calls for "strategic enhancements to [their] programming," there's little description of anything other DC SEU's existing efforts, like their programs to replace light bulbs and seal heating ducts.

If this is all the District wanted to do to improve energy efficiency, there was no need to create a new organization. It could have given the job to PEPCO and Washington Gas, which are perfectly capable of doing this kind of work. Meanwhile, DC SEU admits that natural gas consumption has actually increased due to their focus on replacing incandescent light bulbs with high-efficiency bulbs. The new bulbs give off less heat, which means that in the colder months, customers actually use more heating gas to hear their homes and businesses (but save energy in the summer on cooling.)

DC SEU wasn't even trying to balance the modest impact of the lighting upgrades with other programs to reduce heating loads. They spent just $700,000 of the $2 million allocated for natural gas-related programs. Whether this is simply poor management, misplaced priorities, or both, this is clearly not a good sign.

What can be done?

DC SEU needs help. They aren't meeting their goals and they aren't fulfilling their legal obligation to District ratepayers. Meanwhile, the District Department of the Environment (DDOE), which manages the organization, has done little oversight. A lot of the relevant staff has turned over at DDOE. Plus, that agency's main expertise is not in "big data" or the economics of financial leverage in the ways necessary to push the SEU toward bolder thinking and better results.

There's already a strong market for compact fluorescents (and an emerging one for the the even newer LED bulbs). The amount of savings from bulbs is small compared to commercial space, which uses a vastly disproportionate share of energy. With incentives to focus on the greatest possible value, the SEU could do more with, for instance, energy audits for commercial space.

Mayor Gray's sustainability plan puts forward an exciting and laudable vision for the District. It would be a shame if DC SEU doesn't play a key role in making it a reality.

DC's mayor can't oversee himself

The recent investigation into cheating in DC schools highlights a little-understood fact in the District: Our mayor has too much power. Every state-level agency charged with overseeing the mayor's activities reports to the mayora level of control that exists nowhere else in the country.

Photo by stallio on Flickr.

The agency that investigates cheating, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), is charged with overseeing our schools. But OSSE also reports to the mayor, the same official who runs most of the schools they are supposed to oversee.

The same conflict exists with the state-level agency charged with overseeing job training in the District. This agency, the Workforce Investment Council (WIC), reports to the same mayor who runs job training and wants voters to see his efforts to train job seekers as successful.

Continue reading Ken's latest op-ed in the Washington Post.


Shocking rhetoric from John Townsend and AAA

This week's Washington City Paper cover story quoted AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend calling Greater Greater Washington editor David Alpert "retarded" and a "ninny," and comparing Greater Greater Washington to the Ku Klux Klan.

Many other reporters, people on Twitter, and residents generally have clearly stated in response what should of course go without saying, that such personal attacks are beyond the pale.

Some may get the sense that there is personal animosity between Townsend and the team here at Greater Greater Washington. At least on our end, nothing could be further from the truth. We simply disagree with many of his policy positions and his incendiary rhetoric.

Spirited argument is important in public policy, but it should not cross into insults. When it does, that has a chilling effect on open discourse. Fostering an inclusive conversation about the shape of our region is the purpose of this site, but discourse must be civil to be truly open. That's why our comment policy here on Greater Greater Washington prohibits invective like this. In our articles, we try hard to avoid crossing this line, and are disappointed when we or others do, intentionally or inadvertently.

The "war on cars" frame unnecessarily pits drivers against cyclists and pedestrians instead of working together for positive solutions. The City Paper article, by Aaron Wiener, does a good job of debunking that, and is worth reading for much more than the insults it quotes.

When pressed, Townsend told Wiener he wants to back away from the "war on cars."

"I regret the rhetoric sometimes," he says. "Because I think that when you use that type of language, it shuts down communication with people who disagree."
We hope Townsend, his colleagues, and their superiors also regret the things he said about David and Greater Greater Washington. We look forward to the day when AAA ceases using antagonistic language and begins working toward safety, mobility, and harmony among all road users.

In the meantime, residents do have a choice when purchasing towing, insurance, and travel discounts. Better World Club is one company that offers many of the same benefits as AAA, but without the disdain.

DC job assistance claims take credit for federal program

Last December, Mayor Vincent Gray announced that a centerpiece of his administration, One City One Hire, had helped over 5,100 unemployed DC residents find jobs. According to a former official at the Department of Employment Services, this figure includes every DC resident hired under the federal Work Opportunity Tax Credit program.

Photo by khalilshah on Flickr.

A One City One Hire briefing document that was presented to the mayor last December shows that 30% of the 5,100 hires were made through this federal program.

Officials from the Department of Employment Services (DOES) say that it is fair to take credit for these hires, because they are educating employers on the availability of the federal tax credit. However, a spokesperson for Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, whose Hire One Atlanta program was the model for Gray's initiative, said they do not include all hires made with federal tax credits in their metrics.

One City One Hire metrics are important

One City One Hire is a initiative of DOES that matches work ready DC residents with jobs.

DOES encourages unemployed DC residents to enter their resume into the One City One Hire web site. DOES staff then proactively engage "hiring partners" to consider qualified applicants from their system while informing them of available hiring credits.

The program makes sense, as I explained last year while praising Gray for One City One Hire. Often employers don't consider unemployed DC job applicants because of stereotypes about their work readiness. It makes sense for DOES to step in and vouch for truly work-ready DC residents.

Furthermore, Gray set a goal for DOES to place 10,000 jobless DC residents into jobs through One City One Hire. Achieving that goal would make a real dent in DC's jobless crisis, which exceeds 20% unemployment in parts of the city east of the Anacostia River.

Relying only on matching work-ready individuals with jobs would likely be insufficient to reach this goal. As a result, reaching this goal would require reform of DC's workforce development system that removes barriers to employment for those who are not work-ready.

A former DOES official, different from the former DOES official who provided the One City One Hire briefing document, provided documents previously to Greater Greater Washington that show that few job seekers are getting the intensive services they need from DOES to become work-ready.

DC claiming credit for federal program, Atlanta is not

By allowing One City One Hire to claim credit for hires by employers with whom DOES has no relationship, however, the Gray Administration is more likely to achieve it's goal of 10,000 hires without making a significant dent in unemployment or reforming DC's workforce development system.

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit is a credit that employers receive on their federal payroll taxes when they hire certain classes of individuals. Unemployed veterans, unemployed ex-convicts and long-term welfare recipients are included in the program.

The Washington City Paper first reported in January that a senior DOES official claimed many of the hires attributed to One City One Hire were simply hires that resulted in a WOTC tax credit. The official said at the time, "These programs are doing the same things and getting the same results."

Mayoral spokesperson Pedro Ribeiro defended claiming credit for these hires because WOTC "is a tool that states use." Through One City One Hire "we use tax credits, reimbursements, and all kinds of other tools to get folks employed."

According to interim DOES Chief of Staff Liz DeBarros, "When we came into office, there was a 2½ year backlog in processing WOTC requests through DOES" and there was insufficient "education of employers that it was available." DOES under the Gray administration is now educating employers on WOTC and processing requests more quickly.

She said that it's fair, as a result, to claim credit for all hires that resulted in a WOTC tax credit for the employer.

Atlanta Mayoral spokesperson Reese McCranie, however, said that the Hire One Atlanta program on which One City One Hire was modeled does not include all hires that resulted in a WOTC tax credit for the employer.

Employers who partner with the City of Atlanta self-report their hires of unemployed Atlanta residents to Hire One Atlanta, and the Society for Human Resource Professionals provides 3rd party validation of the hires.

Mayor Gray has been criticized for announcing more goals - around sustainability, economic development, education - than accomplishments. Greater Greater Washington contributors have defended the mayor's practice of setting goals, because goals matter. They allow for accountability that leads to reform.

But that assumes that the metrics used by the Gray Administration are fair and measure what everyone assumes they are measuring. But that's not always happening.

Gray set a goal of universal pre-k availability, for example, but then permitted a formula for calculating availability that will always show universal availability. One City One Hire is also using a metric that is biased in favor of showing progress towards the goal of the program.

Goals matter, but only if the metrics are fair. That's why the Gray Administration should be explicit about how it measures progress towards each of its goals.

Few job seekers get the intensive training they need

Large numbers of DC's jobless residents are going to the city's One-Stop Centers for employment assistance, but very few actually receive the intensive services that they will need to compete for jobs, say internal workforce training documents obtained by Greater Greater Washington.

Image by Intersection Consulting on Flickr.

In order to get job training from the DC government, one has to request training at a One-Stop center run by the Department of Employment Services (DOES).

A former DOES manager sent along a training manual which highlights a problem in the job training system: job seekers have to pass through many administrative steps to get services, but high attrition rates at each stage mean that few ultimately get services like literacy training or skill development.

While unemployment in the Washington region is relatively low, in low-income parts of DC such as Ward 8 it exceeds 20%. Given that only 28% of jobs in DC are held by DC residents, high unemployment of DC residents is generally attributed to obstacles to employment like lack of literacy and job skills.

Allison Gerber, executive director of the Workforce Investment Council (WIC) which has oversight of services of One-Stops, reacted to the numbers. "Assuming these numbers are correct," she said, "they are very similar to the gaps that the WIC found in the last program year."

DOES Director Lisa Mallory disavows the numbers in the training manual, saying they were pulled by a previous Associate Director for Workforce Development, Dr James Moore, and are "incorrect." Mallory referred to "coding" issues, and said that the number of services provided like occupational and GED training were actually much higher.

Mallory agreed, however, that attrition is a central problem in the delivery of workforce development services, and said her investment in training to address this problem demonstrates that she is tackling the problem by transforming DOES.

What happens when jobless residents approach DC for help?

15,781 adults approached DOES One-Stops over the last Program Year (July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012) requesting help with employment. Assuming these were all DC residents, that would be about 30% of the roughly 50,000 unemployed DC residents.

The figures in the report suggest that most are receiving basic services, such as use of a computer to look for jobs or resume assistance. DOES refers to such basic services as "core services," and refers to services like literacy, adult education and occupational training as "intensive services."

Of the 6,352 enrolled in core services, 4,004 received "initial assessments," 3,919 received "resume assistance services" and 3,594 received "referrals to workshops." 2,284 get referred to intensive services, but of these, only 21% (477) actually enroll in intensive services.

Among the 477, 430 express interest in occupational training. The One-Stops approve 77% (322) of these requests, and forward their application packets to the Office of Program Performance Monitoring (OPPM) in DOES. But OPPM only approves 32% of these (104) for training, a $4,000 Individual Training Account (ITA) program funded by the federal government and DC government.

The consultant DOES commissioned to train their management, Greg Newton Associates, identifies this attrition problem in the training manual as low "conversion ratios" and then asks the question, "What needs to be improved?"

Few residents receive literacy training or evaluations

The manual also shows a low percentage of job seekers at the One Stops receive literacy or adult education services. More than 80,000 DC residents, making up 19% of adults, lack basic literacy. Approximately 55,000 lack a high school diploma.

The unemployment rate for residents without a high school diploma or GED is 19%. However, less than 1% (33) of the unemployed enrolled in the core services of DC One-Stops (6,352) receive literacy or adult education services.

In fact, only 6% (379) of the 6,352 unemployed enrolled in core services are even tested for lack of literacy and numeracy skills.

Mallory challenged these numbers as well, claiming that "we had about 200 individuals referred for GED training."

Why is the attrition rate so high?

There appears to be a high attrition rate in two places: first, in the One Stop, and second, where the Office of Program Performance Management evaluates job training requests after a One Stop approves a request.

Attrition within the One-Stops is sometimes blamed on the jobless residents. In an interview last year, former director of the DOES One-Stops Hugh Bailey said that "One-Stop staff are not case managers. Lots of people come into the One-Stop and expect to leave with a job."

"All we can do is give them the tools to find a job," said Bailey, "but we aren't case managers."

However, the Newton manual pointed to strict adherence to a wasteful process as the cause of low One-Stop "conversion rates." The manual called for DOES staff to transform into lean providers of services that meet all customers where they are at.

OPPM approves less than a third of job training requests

The workforce development community has worried for years about the low percentage of job training requests DOES approves, even after they go through a first stage of approval at the One-Stop centers. The training manual says that only 32% of requests get the go-ahead from OPPM.

An annual report of DC's workforce development efforts sent to the federal Department of Labor last year admits to "internal delays in transitioning participants into training services."

An October 2008 report by Callahan Consultants observed that "the process itselfwhich includes required return visits to the One-Stop for eligibility determination, for testing, and for submission of vendor acceptance letter, etc is being used as a screening mechanism to ensure clients are truly motivated to go into training."

Marina Strewnewski, executive director of the DC Jobs Coalition, a coalition of job training providers, says that her members report an average of 90 days waiting for DOES to approve training requests. According to Strewnewski, "this absolutely discourages unemployed job seekers, who eventually disengage from the DOES process out of frustration."

Director Mallory asserted, however, that "OPPM is not an impediment" to delivering training services. Mallory pointed to several "factors that may play a role in delaying the the approval of the training request."

These included:

  • "lack of certification documentation (proof of residency, Social Security Numbers, Citizenship, etc.),"
  • "Provider unable to start classes due to not enough customers approved for the program to schedule a class," and
  • "Customer undecided and/or loss of interest."
Officials are trying to streamline the process

Gerber, of the Workforce Investment Council, explained that the WIC has been pursuing a "one-stop certification process" that would establish policies and procedures focusing on delivering services that jobless residents need to be work ready instead of focusing on paperwork.

Gerber stressed that this is a collaborative effort with DOES, and the multiple working groups with DOES management have made good progress. Once the certification process is in place, the WIC could then de-certify One-Stops that fall short of the new standards.

Delivering more core services, focusing on matching work-ready customers with a job, is an achievement for which DOES deserves much credit. The improvement in these services reflects the investment in One City One Hire, which matches jobless DC residents with job openings.

However, our focus on job matching must also go hand in hand with a focus on work readiness, given the tremendous mismatch between jobs in the DC area and the skills of jobless DC residents.

Georgetowners seek to overturn Glover Park traffic calming

Upset Georgetown residents are challenging a 2012 traffic calming project in Glover Park. They say it has lengthened their car commutes through that adjacent neighborhood. Monday, these residents will air their frustrations at an extraordinary Georgetown ANC meeting with Councilmembers Jack Evans and Mary Cheh and DDOT Director Terry Bellamy.

New left-turn lanes in Glover Park. Photo from DDOT.

The idea for traffic calming project began years ago. The Glover Park ANC, after hearing constituents bemoan the state of retail in Glover Park, complained to the city about their commercial district's struggles.

The Office of Planning studied the area in 2006. That report found that cars speed through Glover Park, particularly going downhill on Wisconsin, which makes it dangerous to the pedestrians who patronize Glover Park businesses.

2-3 pedestrians are struck each year on Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park. In fact, after a driver hit a Georgetown woman and her dog in Glover Park, commissioner Ed Solomon of the Georgetown ANC said, "I would hope that this accident would result in a comprehensive review on the safety concerns that this community has about this section of Wisconsin Avenue."

It's precisely this hostile pedestrian environment, concluded the Office of Planning, that reduces pedestrian traffic to retailers in Glover Park.

DDOT concludes median could reduce congestion and boost pedestrian safety

The Glover Park ANC then asked DDOT in 2009 for a follow-up study about making Glover Park more welcoming for pedestrians. DDOT collected tons of data on traffic at all times of day and days of the week, and reached some interesting conclusions.

The data showed that Wisconsin Avenue in Glover Park actually suffers from both congestion and speeding, due to the many left turns. When drivers are turning left they block the lanes and cause congestion; when they don't, people speed and pedestrians are at risk.

DDOT's engineering models showed that adding a middle left-turn lane would both reduce congestion and also speeding. It would calm traffic (with a single through lane) and eliminate left-turn lane blocking (with the turn lane). The models estimated that the project would not change the time to drive though Glover Park.

Officals presented these results at numerous public meetings. Anyone who was remotely involved in civic affairs by reading public meeting notices, attending ANC meetings, or talking to their ANC commissioners knew about it.

Changes aren't complete

DDOT then began the construction, and some residents in Glover Park and Georgetown complained about traffic spilling over into adjacent neighborhood streets. That was a legitimate complaint, and there is a poorly-designed intersection at 37th & Tunlaw that invites drivers to cut through adjacent neighborhood streets.

Fortunately, DDOT's study had a recommendation for that. It suggested reconfiguring 37th and Tunlaw to calm traffic and reduce cut-through traffic. That project is not done yet; it's scheduled to be completed in March.

The construction on Wisconsin, however, largely finished early this year, but the center median containing the left-turn lanes is only painted for now. That's because DDOT is spending a year measuring the results and tweaking different things like light timing, enforcement, and so on.

Changes already help some pedestrians, frustrate some drivers

Pedestrians are already feeling the benefits. It's far less stressful crossing and walking along Wisconsin Avenue. Families with children in particular report less anxiety about walking around Glover Park to popular destinations like the Guy Mason playground and area restaurants.

When the year of tweaks and study ends, DDOT will replace the painted medians between the left-turn areas with raised medians. This will be even better for pedestrian activity, because crossing Wisconsin Avenue will be safer and less threatening with a central raised median.

However, a vocal minority of drivers who prioritize a few seconds of driving time over pedestrian safety have won their first battle to reverse this project. They have secured an audience with two Councilmembers and the DDOT Director at Monday's Georgetown ANC meeting.

DDOT Program Manager Paul Hoffman says that "early returns" of data collection indicate that through time is the same for drivers headed north through Glover Park, but 30 seconds longer on average going south.

If the opponents are successful in repaving Wisconsin Avenue to add the lost through lanes, DC will not only have to pay for the repaving. We will have to pay the federal government back for the money it contributed to the project.

Use the form below and attend Monday's meeting to ask the councilmembers and Georgetown ANC commissioners to give the Glover Park traffic calming project time to succeed. The ANC meeting takes place on Monday, March 4, 6:30 pm at Georgetown Visitation School on 35th Street and Volta Place. The meeting is on the 2nd floor of the main building, in the Heritage Room.

Speak up for safety

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